Time to start cranking on those ovens and stuffing that turkey! Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Traditionally, this holiday is known as a time to come together as family, enjoy a nice classic dinner like turkey, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole with mashed potatoes, watch the Thanksgiving football game, and give thanks for the way things are, have been, and may be. The purpose and idea behind Thanksgiving has always been a touching and thoughtful one for me, but as someone who is a Latina with a Vietnamese significant other, My Thanksgivings have had a little variance from the norm. I want to highlight some of my favorite foods, and experiences, as well as the lows of the holidays.
In the past, I have gone to my side of the family’s Thanksgiving first to help with the cooking, as the women wake up at the crack of dawn to start on the pupusas, sopa, tamales, as well as turkey and mashed potatoes. Pupusas are so very near and dear to my heart, as it is with most people from my country. The holiday lunch is typically preceded by a family soccer game outside. Since my family is VERY large, we actually rent out a whole church on the day to fit everyone in and some sections of my family hold an improvised mass, before the the smorgasbord of food is ready to be served.
I stopped going my family’s Thanksgiving though. I think this holiday is centered around the idea of having a warm family to lean back on and enjoy the day with, but I never had a family like that. It’s not to tear on anyone, but rather to share that Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily have to be spent with people who oppress you, or make you feel uncomfortable about yourself just because you share the same blood. I’ve never looked back. There’s never a bad time to have a pupusa though, and if you’re looking to spice up your holiday dinner, I HIGHLY recommend making some these bad boys. They’ll be a hit on your table.
My significant other’s family will start cooking at a more traditional time, and usually have the holiday meal ready around dinner time. It was definitely a culture shock the first couple of times that I sat at the table, and I wasn’t huge fan of any of it at first, but I grew to really like it. The typical dishes I see every year include the notable pho soup, a staple choice for any Vietnamese family, a hot pot, spring rolls, many strange meats that I have no clue as to what they are, and more than enough turmeric powder to go around. Usually, the grandparents have some Vietnamese version of The Voice playing loudly in the background.
Their family is maybe 1/10th the size of mine, so it’s much more quieter and low-key. It hasn’t always been a good experience. In the beginning, my SO’s grandmother was VERY upset that he found himself in an interracial relationship, and would constantly call me derogatory names in Vietnamese while I was right there, completely unaware of it. After a while, I learned that it didn’t matter how many years we were together, or how much more successful I had become than him, or anything at all would change her mind about me, so I just stopped going. His other set of grandparents and side of the family however, have really warmed up to me over time, and are much more inclusive and welcoming. They’ve taught me the taboos, the etiquette, and the mentality behind their culture, and I am so thankful for them and everything they’ve done for me.
Sometimes, it’s all just too much mentally for me. Last Thanksgiving I was in a major rut, and opted out of all of the normal festivities. I actually headed over to Druid Ridge Cemetery and read in front of the Cone Sisters’ mausoleum. It was one of my most profound and humbling experiences I’ve ever had, and nowadays if I hit rock bottom, it’s become one of my first steps on the road to healing again. If you don’t know who the Cone Sisters are, check them out. They weren’t afraid to go against the grain in a strong traditional patriarchal society.
At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is what you make of it, and it’s however you want to spend that time doing. A day that brings you comfort, contentment, and holiday spirit is a Thanksgiving well done, whether it’s with family, with friends, or alone…